Thirteen seasons. Eleven major trophies, including the Champions League. A club record 211 goals (from midfield mind you). There is no doubt that Frank Lampard’s legacy at Chelsea is secure in gold-wrapping whether he becomes manager of the club or not.
Now he is once more at the cusp of a return to Stamford Bridge, to hold up the blue shirt at a time when Chelsea are faced with the monumental task of not just competing in a ridiculously difficult league, but also with the realisation that the club needs to change its philosophy. Lampard is the 12th manager that owner Roman Abramovich will appoint — and this does not include the return of Jose Mourinho or the interim stints by the likes of Guus Hiddink. To make matters tougher, Chelsea are still fighting a two-window transfer ban. For a club used to buying players rather than promoting from within, they will need a respected hand to manoeuvre the choppy waters.
Trophies, trophies, trophies
Chelsea’s way of working is ruthless but has continued to win them trophies. In fact, despite the hiring and firing of a dozen coaches, they have been the most successful English club in the last decade-and-a-half. But it has come at the cost of millions in severance packages to disgruntled coaches, and a world-class academy that has turned into a sad loan army rather than a pipeline to the first team. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi apart, the last academy player to truly make an impact on the Chelsea first-team was John Terry. That is unacceptable for a club that houses youngsters who have won five FA Youth Cups in a row — a feat last achieved by Manchester United in the 1950s.
The signing of Lampard as manager should not just be a way of appeasing fans who were clamouring for a return of a bonafide hero, it should be a change in the way Chelsea is run. Lampard is faced with an enormous task after just one remarkable season with Derby County where he took them to the Championship final. He will be aided by technical advisor Petr Cech — part of the all-powerful former players’ quintet that also included Terry, Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole.
Lampard will most likely bring in Jody Morris, who assisted him at Derby and was vastly successful when in-charge of Chelsea’s youth team. Morris has sniped at club managers during his time for overlooking talent he groomed. “We’ve had managers at Chelsea where they’d be 50 yards away, there’d be a Champions League U19s game going on, and the manager’s sat in his office, rather than coming out to watch. It’s very disheartening,” Morris had said in a September 2018 interview.
Freedom to breathe
Unless a manager has time, and the freedom to take risks with the possibility of failure to win a trophy, they will come and go at Chelsea. And this makes Lampard’s signing all the more interesting. Here is a player who saw managers come and go during his time at the club, and is now returning as one himself. He knows how trigger-happy Abramovich can be, but comes in as someone whose name is still sung in the terraces. How the drama pans out between a player who has clearly shown the willingness to play youngsters and gone through the ups and downs of a top-level career and an owner whose hunger for trophies hasn’t diminished is going to be riveting.
Manchester United fans experienced the euphoria of seeing a former hero in Ole Gunnar Solksjaer make a dazzling start before things took a turn at the fag end of the season — football is flaky like that — and cheers can turn to boos very quickly. Lampard’s task is cut out for him — he has to find the right way of playing. Despite tasting Europa League glory, Chelsea’s fans were done with Maurizio Sarri’s Sarriball system. There was too much method and no madness. Lampard needs to entertain. He needs to quickly make them forget about Eden Hazard — probably the Premier League’s best all-round attacker over the past few seasons. And, of course, he needs to keep winning.
It’s a monumental task and one which takes years to achieve but Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have shown the benefits of longer tenures where managers are given the time and space to create a club culture. But as John Terry put it, “Frank was under pressure to succeed at Chelsea the day he arrived from West Ham and he never hid from that. He revelled in it and went on to become Chelsea’s greatest-ever player. Roman is a successful businessman because he is so demanding but Frank will demand nothing less from himself. He is a legend and now is the right time for him to come home.”
No manager in Chelsea’s recent history has been able to call Stamford Bridge home for long. But here comes Frank Lampard, already safe in the assurance that this is where he belongs and it is that tiny feeling in the hugely number-dominant game of football that could change things at Chelsea.